The Company Men Directed by: John Wells Cast: Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner Running Time: 1 hr 44 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: January 21, 2011 (Chicago)
PLOT: A group of business men that work for a downsizing Massachusetts company struggle to find ways to cope with their new situation.
WHO'S IT FOR? Despite whatever its title may indicate, this film transcends working collar color. While it does start as a drama about businessmen, it does reach out to more audiences directly than the film’s stepfather, Up in the Air.
EXPECTATIONS: Venturing into The Company Men, I knew almost nothing about this film, except that this Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones movie had received decent buzz at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Usually, that's a promising sign. Its award season-friendly screening date also didn't hurt.
Ben Affleck as Bobby Walker: A family man on the wrong path who loses even more direction after being fired, Bobby is the type of allegorical wannabe hotshot who gets an all-American schooling about the things our entire country’s workfore should really be working for, and ultimately, value. In the company of seasoned men like Jones, Cooper and Costner, Affleck portrays a serviceable version of his cocky whippersnapper, but thankfully presents this character with the same sturdy and mature presence we saw in his last film, The Town. Score: 7
Tommy Lee Jones as Gene McClary: Of the four leading men, Jones is the most mopiest, especially when trying to refute the selfish acts of his friend and boss, played by Craig T. Nelson. Jones mumbles through his lines and gives the movie a pinch more of an "old dog" perspective while seemingly not serving to do much else. Score: 5
Chris Cooper as Phil Woodward: Providing a difficult-to-watch portrayal of ageism in the employment system, Cooper heightens the potential of his weathered face and gives a performance that is tangible yet ghostly. His character’s has an effective course of events, especially with him suffering his own economical fate. Even if his ultimate “choice” is predictable, it’s all the more discomforting that he follows through with something we would expect someone in his shoes to do. Score: 6
Kevin Costner as Jack Dolan: With his worn-down Kelly’s Roast Beef t-shirt and thick Boston accent, Costner fits comfortably into the working class boots and blue jeans, and is able to sell his amicable, humbled and certainly wise character. He anchors the film’s change of tone (which occurs right near the third act) without giving into his potential of embodying one of Bruce Springsteen’s cheesier songs. Score: 7
TALKING: The beginning of the film is loaded with corporate vernacular that doesn’t stick, but the film renders understanding certain terms unimportant once the movie takes its dive into unemployment. (The only phrases that you should probably know are “downsizing” and “We work for stockholders now.” By accident or not, the words that stay with the viewer most after the film are originally the ones rejected by the characters of the movie as cheesy. The motivational poster-friendly “I will win” speech might even help some of its audience members just as it helps the characters. Score: 6
SIGHTS: Walking into an office floor of abandoned chairs and blank tests can be a chilling sight, but Roger Deakins’ careful cinematography takes such spooky images to a whole new level. Whether it’s a wide shot that presents a whole floor of fired employees walking cardboard boxes to their cars, or a single Chris Cooper walking into an employment office lined by young buck hopefuls, the at-times fascinating visuals of The Company Men present such actualities with a haunting sense, like a Norman Rockwell painting with the pride sucked out of it. Score: 7
SOUNDS: Most of the film has its white collar energy, whether its positive or negative, provided by an alternative rock sounding score, with pounding bass and moody electric guitars driven by inspired drums. When The Company Men starts to honor its blue collar roots with moments out of an all-American jeans commercial, the score opts primarily for acoustic guitars. This is fitting certainly when one realizes that The Company Men is the type of story that could be condensed into country song lyrics (if it hasn’t been already). Score: 6
BEST SCENE: Chris Cooper hurling rocks at his old office building is pretty poignant.
ENDING: The resolution is a bit ripped from a recession fairytale, yet at the same time it’s the kind of conclusion that we (and this hard-hitting film) need.
QUESTIONS: You can read my interview with writer/director John Wells next week.
REWATCHABILITY: A second viewing is certainly possible, as the spirit of The Company Men is more inspiring than it is depressing. Plus, the performances are good in their own right.
The Company Men is a movie that wants recession-affected audience members to buck up, but not in financial terms. Taking place after the mass job slaughtering that made Up in the Air so resonant, The Company Men is an invigorating movie that covers all spectrums of job mortality, with simple yet instantly see-thru characters that represent different struggles all workers must face.
John Wells’ debut takes us through familiar situations, and then gives them a real heart. When it takes its characters down into the uncertain dumps, the audience’s spirit plunges right with them. It is then only fitting, and basically also kind, that this movie does conclude its light preaching with an ending more correlating to a fairytale than whatever reality we’ve come to believe. The goal of The Company Men is not to continue the images of misery that come from being fired or even trying to find out what’s next. Instead, The Company Men does a great job in providing its own hope and ideas to a nation that could also use a stimulus for its pride.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10